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Connecting culture and service: Ramadan

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Enjoli Saunders
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing

Twenty-two years ago, then Airman Gloria Weatherspoon, would not have imagined wearing a hijab, also known as a headdress, celebrating Ramadan in a Muslim country while deployed. The month long religious observance for Muslims is a time of intensive worship and increased prayer.

 

“Usually, when I’m deployed during Ramadan, it’s quite lonely,” said Chief Master Sgt. Gloria Weatherspoon, 379th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron superintendent. “You don’t know who or if there are other Muslims on the installation. This year, I am excited to celebrate Ramadan in Qatar because of the ability to leave the installation and see everyone around me doing the same thing.”

 

For other Muslims service members, such as Staff Sgt. Numan Rana, 379th Host Nation Coordination Cell immigrations liaison, being stationed in a Muslim country throughout this time offers a feeling of comfort and support.

 

“For me, Ramadan is a time of self-reflection, giving back and being appreciative for what I have,” said Rana. “It is easy to overlook our blessings since it is normal for us to have food, water and shelter. So, I try to be more mindful and thankful along with giving back to the less fortunate.”

One of the biggest obstacles for Muslims who observe Ramadan while deployed is nutrition. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam applied throughout the month as eating and drinking are only allowed before dawn and after sunset. Fasting is believed to show spiritual strength over physical needs that inspires authentic gratitude. Due to limited access to resources and facilities at some austere military locations, fasting can be complicated.

 

With this in mind, Weatherspoon took the opportunity during this deployment to organize an Iftar dinner on base that Muslims could attend to breaktheir daily fast. For Weatherspoon, Iftar is not only a chance to spend time with other Muslims, but also serves as a symbolic communal gathering of various backgrounds. She made special arrangements with the Al Udeid Air Base dining facility to ensure others would not experience Ramadan alone as she had done many times before.

 

Like most military members, Muslims who are away from their friends, family and community during this observance may experience a variety of emotions. Communication and understanding during this revered fasting time is essential throughout their work environment.


“This is going to be the first time when more than just my immediate leadership will know I am Muslim,” said Weatherspoon. “It’s going to be evidentamongst the people that I lead. I’ll be fasting and will have to explain it to others in my unit. We usually have lunch or breakfast together on a regular basis, however, during Ramadan I will not be present during those times.”

 

Weatherspoon’s leadership and peers have provided great support.

 

While this is my first experience with a request for religious accommodations, it really fit right into the culture and mission of the squadron,” said Lt. Col. Angel Betancourt-Toyens, 379th Force Support Squadron commander. “The chief’s request was easy to accommodate. I am impressed and admire how much drive and energy she displays while fasting throughout the day.”

 

Despite the understanding she has received from leadership during this time, being a Muslim Airman has its challenges. 

 

“When I first converted I would talk about it a lot, until one of my past supervisors made jokes about it,” said Weatherspoon. “I’m a pretty tough person and I don’t shy away from conflict, so I quickly corrected him. Every opportunity you get to teach or correct a misconception you should.”

 

Rana echoes Weatherspoon’s sentiments.

 

“Many have been supportive but some don’t truly understand what Islam is,” said Rana. “Most are filled with curiosity and ask questions, but somerely only on what they read or hear on the news or social media.”

 

Weatherspoon did not let this encounter impact who she was or her beliefs. In fact, during this Ramadan she decided to make a major change in hopes to bring light to the Muslim culture in the military. 

 

“I’m actually going to submit a request to wear my hijab in uniform at my next duty station,” said Weatherspoon. “I intend to spend the rest of my years in the service covered.”

 

Numan offered advice for other U.S. military Muslims as he reflected on his commitment to culture and service.

 “Get out there meet other people and Muslims. Organize events and educate others on Islam; but most importantly, don’t be afraid to stand up foryour beliefs.”